Hydrofoil Pioneers...


In Memory of Ed Butler

by John Adams, Bill White with Dottie Butler

(Last Update 21 April 05)


Ed was born in 1932 in Albany, New York.  He graduated in 1954 from the Maritime College of the State University of New York where he earned a degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering and a merchant marine officer’s license.

After graduation, Ed spent two years working as a Naval Architect in the Surface Ship Hydromechanics Department of the David Taylor Model Basin.  This was followed by two years of active duty in the Pacific Ocean aboard the USS Bennington, an Essex Class aircraft carrier.

From 1957-1962, Ed worked at the Bureau of Ships and from there he went to the Maritime Administration.  At this time, the MARAD was keenly interested in the commercial potential of hydrofoils and hovercraft for high-speed transportation of people and express cargo based on the success that small vessels were having in Europe.  Both coastal and transoceanic vessel concepts were developed and speeds up to 200 knots and displacements up to 4000 tons were considered. 

Ed was involved in these early investigations and also participated in experimental programs such as the MARAD’s 95-Ton, 60-knot hydrofoil HS Denison and the BuShips hovercraft SKMR-1.  These experiences gave Ed a unique perspective on the technical issues associated with operating foil supported and air supported craft above waves in order to exploit their high speed capability.  He became a supporter of the sidewall hovercraft or surface effect ship concept that was invented by Allen Ford and others at the Naval Air Development Center in the early 1960s.  This concept offered the possibility to drastically reduce the power of the lift system required for high-speed operation without introducing underwater foils.

In 1967, Ed was recruited into the Joint MARAD/Navy Surface Effect Ship Program Office (JSESPO) that was established to determine the technical and economic feasibility of constructing high-speed oceangoing surface effect ships for commercial and military purposes.  He became an integral part of an engineering team that directed the development of SES technology by industry and government laboratories.  In the space of about 10 years, the technology went from small manned models to the detailed design of a 3000-ton 80-knot prototype surface effect ship (the 3KSES) for the Navy.

While at JSESPO (which later became PMS-304 the Navy’s Surface Effect Ship Program Office), Ed oversaw the detailed design and construction of the SES-100B testcraft by the Bell Aerospace Corporation in New Orleans, LA.  This 100-ton testcraft was used to develop and validate the engineering design methods and ship systems being incorporated in the 3000-ton design.  The SES-100B is notable for the following Navy firsts:

Ed was co-inventor on a Navy patent involving application of partially submerged propellers to high-speed ships. 

After completion of the SES-100B, Ed became Chief Naval Architect and Deputy Program Manager for the development and acquisition of the 3KSES.  Unfortunately for the advancement of high speed ships, the 3KSES program was terminated in December 1979 just 3 weeks prior to start of hull construction because it was a prototype without a clearly defined mission.

Ed was then appointed as the Navy’s SES Program Manager and he proceeded to reinvigorate the program by focusing on high length-to-beam SES designs that offered 40-50 knots speeds, transoceanic capability and could operate more efficiently at Navy fleet speeds than the low length-to-beam 3KSES. 

Ed took two approaches to this task.  The project office acquired a 110 ft low length-to-beam SES crewboat (the BH-110) and converted it to a high length-to-beam (the SES-200) to demonstrate the efficiency of the technology at a reasonable scale.  Ed also directed his office and associated government laboratories to design patrol craft, corvettes, frigates, and multipurpose transport ships for existing and projected naval missions based on high length-to-beam technology.

The SES-200 proved to be an excellent demonstrator of the high length-to-beam technology both in US Navy tests and in tests conducted by the UK, France, Spain, and Germany during a six month NATO deployment.  The SES-200 has also been used for testing weapons, fire control systems, motion control systems, high-speed diesel engines and waterjet propulsors.  Now in its 22nd year of operation, the SES-200 is being used for testing lifting bodies by the Office of Naval Research.

The high length-to-beam designs that the SES Program Office developed during Ed’s tenure focused on using proven construction practices and ship systems, being efficient at fleet speeds, providing transoceanic range, and providing 40-50 speed capability.  This was a radical departure from the high technology, low length-to-beam, 80 knot 3KSES, and interest in high length-to-beam technology spread worldwide during the last year’s of Ed’s Navy career.

Although, the US Navy did not build any high length-to-beam SES designs, Ed seeded the technology and its potential worldwide and this has led to numerous developments in Europe, Scandinavia and Asia which continue today.  The US Navy is currently procuring two prototype Littoral Combat Ships that are being designed to performance requirements that the SES Program Office demonstrated were achievable using high length-to-beam SES technology over 20 years ago.

Ed retired in 1987 having been a major force in introducing high-speed ships and technology to the US Navy.  He and his wife Dottie cruised the Caribbean on a 40 ft sailboat and built a house by themselves on Key Island, FL where they lived for 14 years prior to settling in Leesburg, FL in 2000.  Ed passed from us in June 2004 but his enthusiasm for pushing advanced ship technology lives on within those who worked closely with him.


Ed's Ships

The 3K SES circa 1979 (rev 050326wnw)

The SES 200 High L/B SES circa 1985 (rev 050326Bill White)


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